Tombstone Tourism’s Last Stop, a Plot of Your Own in Vienna


Nothing illustrates the long history of this relationship so graphically as the burial traditions of the Habsburgs. After death, the bodies of the Hapsburg royal family, who remained in power in Austria from the 11th century to the early 20th century, were dismembered and interred in three locations. Their hearts rest in the Church of the Augustinian Friars; their intestines, in the Ducal Crypt under the bowels of the St Stephen’s Cathedral; and the rest of them, in the Imperial Burial Vault.

Strangely, there is a kind of poetic symmetry between the Hapsburgs’ ritual, and the premise behind Mr. Mishima’s business. Many of his clients, Mr. Mishima anticipates, will split their ashes. Part will remain at home, in the traditional fashion, alongside those of ancestors and loved ones. But part will be shipped across the seas. Like the Hapsburgs, whose hearts rest below the church in which they were married, music fans could dedicate a part of themselves to rest near those who had captured their hearts — near the musicians they had loved their whole lives.

On a winter’s morning in January, the cemetery was quiet. The only signs of life were the groundskeepers and a few brave mourners, braced against an unsettlingly strong, icy wind.

In the cemetery’s parking lots, shops sold candles and flowers, both real and fake. There were sausage stands, Turkish snack stands, selling durums and doner kebabs, and a drink cart or two. The sidewalks, however, were empty. Many of the stores and cafes and stands were closed. An economy of death, on hiatus for the off season.

At the B & F museum gift shop, another side of this economy emerged — one that felt, well, more Viennese. “The Last Tour Guide,” read a T-shirt, over an image of a curvy, lady Grim Reaper. “Viennese Cemeteries: This is the right place for you!” promised another. A tub of the “finest cemetery honey,” collected from the hives in the Central Cemetery’s gardens, was also on offer. The sweet taste of death, at just 3 euros per jar.

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